Lars Kern is an engineer by education and the fastest man around the Nürburgring (in a production car). Not only is he a development driver responsible for the set up one of our favourite road cars, he’s also an endurance racer in IMSA driving for the Pfaff team. His is a story like no other…
Lars, you have a different backstory than most race drivers. Can you walk us through it?
Yes, absolutely. My career started out like most young kids: going up the ranks in karting and the amateur categories. I was doing really well but when I was around 19, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t find the budget to go further in Porsche Super Cup so I put racing more on the side track and focused on my studies as a dynamic engineer. This is how I found my way back to Porsche. They asked me to test a car but when I came in the engineers looked at the times and were quite impressed, so they asked me to test some more cars. I started to race again, mainly on the Nürburgring where I did most of my testing. My real break came after my Nürburgring record in the Porsche 911 GT2RS.
Speaking of that famous Nürburgring lap record. What’s it like to be the fastest man on the ‘Ring?
To be honest it doesn’t mean that much for me. That car is an amazing piece of engineering and I’d been going around the ‘Ring in it for a very long time so I was just building up the laps trying to push the car. The story behind it is quite funny. Originally Porsche had planned to put Nick Tandy behind the wheel for the record but in the end, I was 1.5 seconds faster. Don’t get me wrong, Nick is an amazing driver, but he is a race driver that occasionally tests a road car. I spend most of my time developing road cars and I had way more experience in the GT2RS then he did. We had a good laugh over it that night at the bar.
Developing cars on the Nürburgring is quite a unique job. How special is that place for you?
The ‘Ring is really special to me. To be honest it’s not a real track but more like a country road you can drive a race car on. We Germans are funny that way. On the one hand we’re very strict and serious and on the other we have a track with very little safety devices where you can race GT3 cars on. It still is a dangerous place, so when we test I try to minimize the laps as much as possible. I always tell the engineers not to mess around with tyres etc. Just give me the optimal set-up and I go. On the Nürburgring you don’t mess around. Every lap is still a risk. So, if you can complete a test in half the amount of laps it's only half the risk.
What’s the secret to developing great road cars that are also very talented on the track?
Nowadays it’s all about the electronic systems. Systems like stability management and active suspension are so advanced they can literally change the entire dynamics of the car. It can be a comfortable road car on one end and a capable track car on the other.
How did you end up racing on the other side of the Atlantic?
After my Nürburgring lap time and success in categories like VLN, I really paid attention to what was going on in IMSA in the USA. I spoke to Pascal Zuerlinden from Porsche Motorsport to see if he could arrange me a seat. It took a while but finally a drive for Pfaff came through. I only support them in the longer endurance races, which is perfect as I’m still full-time employed by Porsche. I was extremely excited. I remember my first time at Daytona very well. I entered the paddock and my first thought was “oh sh*t, this is not the Nürburgring.”
© Picture credits: Frederik Herregods